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«The social nature of the mother’s tie to her child: John Bowlby’s theory of attachment in post-war America MARGA VICEDO* Abstract. This paper ...»

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22 Bowlby, op. cit. (8), pp. 18, 50; see also pp. 34–35. On the history and signi cance of objectivity in science see Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

The social nature of the mother’s tie to her child consensus within a large eld of research. The ideas of Spitz, Levy, Ribble and Benedek were well known among child analysts, but with Bowlby’s report they gained greater visibility in psychoanalytic and psychiatric circles. While Bowlby was not the only scientist moving towards a deterministic view of mother love, his views epitomize its strongest instantiation and he became its most visible advocate. The report, as a document backed by a respected international organization, acquired a visibility and respectability that none of the previous studies enjoyed independently.

Some important scientists from other elds like sociology and anthropology appealed as well to Bowlby’s work to defend the thesis that the child has a fundamental biological need for mother love. In ‘The power of creative love’, Harvard sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin and his student Robert C. Hanson argued that motherly love is a vital necessity for babies. Even anthropologist Ashley Montagu, who is now remembered for his opposition to biological explanations of behaviour, argued that when researchers studied individuals incapable of showing love, it was ‘invariably found that something was lacking in their mother’s relationship to them’. Though Montagu had not done any research on this topic, he recommended Bowlby’s ‘admirable analysis’ in the WHO report to ‘every adult capable of reading’. In another article, Montagu reported that children without love also die, this time noting the investigations of David Levy. As an anthropologist, Montagu pointed out there were a variety of forms of love in different cultures, but he then claimed that they all would be ‘traceable to the need for the kind of love which is biologically determined, predetermined, to exist between mother and infant’. The implications for mothers were serious: ‘To the extent to which women succeed or do not succeed in adequately loving their children, the boys and girls become inadequately loving men and women’.23 For Americans, Bowlby’s message about the crucial role of mother love and the importance of the ‘natural home group’ arrived at a time of growing concern about the rising number of women working outside the home.

Infants’ needs and the tragedy of working mothers After the Second World War, the patriarchal family gained support from numerous measures. As historian Nancy Cott has shown, the social bene ts of the 1944 GI Bill of Rights, which assumed responsibility for veterans’ economic well-being, helped to enhance ‘men’s roles as husband-heads of households, as property owners, as jobholders and providers’, since women were only about two percent of all military personnel. In addition, after the war there was little interest in continuing the limited support for childcare centres that had been provided during the war, when one and a half million mothers of small children entered the workforce.24 Cold War propaganda also reinforced traditional gender roles within the American family, as historian Elaine Tyler 23 Ashley Montagu (ed.), The Meaning of Love, New York: The Julian Press, 1953; idem, ‘The origins and meaning of love’, in idem, op. cit., pp. 18, 19. Pitirim A. Sorokin and Robert C. Hanson, ‘The power of creative love’, in Montagu, op. cit., 1953, p. 125.

24 Nancy Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000; Steven Mintz and Susan Kellog, Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life, 410 Marga Vicedo May has documented.25 When mounting domestic con icts and tensions between countries grew, public and governmental rhetoric encouraged ‘togetherness’ as the key to security. All these measures encouraged the traditional separation of gender roles, with women at home and men in the workforce. A baby boom and sprawling suburbs attest to the impact of these measures of containment, even if, as the Cold War went on, ‘the rush to marry and buy homes, the reinscription of traditional gender roles, and the overinsistence on the pleasures of family life’ revealed less ‘signs of self-satisfaction than defenses against uncertainty’, as historian Gaile McGregor has argued.26 In this anxiety- lled environment, two social indicators raised concern about the malfunctioning of families and resulting harm to children: the rise of divorce and the rise of juvenile delinquency. The numbers showed that post-war men and women were not easily adjusting to each other. While in 1940 one marriage in six ended in divorce, by 1946 one in four did. A million GIs were divorced by 1950.27 The rising divorce rates fuelled social concerns about their impact on children and adolescents.

The Children’s Bureau record of Juvenile Court cases and the FBI compendium of police arrests pointed to a steep rise in juvenile delinquency during the Second World War, followed by a sharp decline, and then another rise during the 1950s. Gallup polls and popular articles revealed increasing alarm about juvenile delinquency, the rise of gangs and the decline of parental guidance. In 1953 the United States Senate began extensive investigations into juvenile delinquency that lasted over a decade. These events helped to sensationalize the issue and turn it into a national crisis. While politicians debated and called for data, models and experts, the young drove the issue out into the open. Marlon Brando riding a motorcycle in The Wild One and James Dean cruising a sports car in Rebel without a Cause became emblematic gures of reckless American youth. Their unorthodox ways helped to raise fears of impending social and moral decay propelled by emotionally unstable adolescents.28 In turn, heightened concern about juvenile delinquency drew further attention to dysfunctional families.





The ssures appearing in the post-war efforts to reinforce traditional gender roles combined with fears about rising divorce rates and juvenile delinquency to encourage debate about the role of women in the new social order. The extent of this mid-century debate can be appreciated by looking at the rise of studies about women in the mids. Let us look at 1953, the year of Bowlby’s best-seller on maternal care and the initial Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency. That year alone saw the publication of the following important works: Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Mirra Komarovsky’s Women in the Modern World, Ashley Montagu’s The Natural New York: The Free Press, 1988. On day care see also Mary Frances Berry, The Politics of Parenthood: Child Care, Women’s Rights, and the Myth of the Good Mother, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993.

25 Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, New York: Basic Books,

1988. See also Feldstein, op. cit. (19).

26 Gaile McGregor, ‘Domestic blitz: a revisionist theory of the fties’, American Studies (1993) 34, pp. 5–33, 8.

27 Cott, op. cit. (24), p. 189. See also Mintz and Kellog, op. cit. (24), pp. 170–171.

28 On delinquency and family life during the Cold War see James Gilbert, A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986; and Mintz and Kellogg, op. cit. (24).

The social nature of the mother’s tie to her child Superiority of Women and the American translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. This selection gives us a sense of the expanding body of work on women’s issues, as scientists started to uncover diverse female desires and practices.29 These academic treatises did not, however, provide a uniform answer to questions about women’s nature and their functions in modern society.

Some contemporary studies and historical works have underscored the con icting nature of the messages sent to women during the 1950s. Komarovsky’s earlier sociological research showed that women felt internal con icts, provoked by contradictory social messages to be autonomous, independent and mature on the one hand, and dependent, subordinate and childish on the other. Historian Joanne Meyerowitz has documented the con icting messages women received in her analysis of women’s popular magazines in the period from 1946 to 1958. Some of these glori ed domesticity while others advocated individual striving and public service.30 Increasingly, historical research on the 1950s has questioned the common images of domestic bliss and complacency about traditional gender roles. The contrasting positions presented in scholarly studies about the nature and roles of women also reveal the tensions bubbling beneath the super cial image of happy suburban domesticity. If women were ‘naturally superior’, as Montagu claimed, why were they treated as ‘the second sex’, as de Beauvoir argued?

As a short analysis of the reactions to The Second Sex reveals, at the core of these concerns about women’s changing roles were deep anxieties about the devaluation of motherhood and its social consequences. Written by one of France’s most important post-war philosophers, this tract offered an encyclopedic review of historical events and ideas that had led to the construction of woman as ‘the Other’, the opposite of what is male and masculine. The Other is not only different, but also inferior. As in any work of grand scope, many of de Beauvoir’s points could be debated. Yet almost all American reviewers, male and female, housewives and scholars, scientists and humanists, focused on de Beauvoir’s assertion that ‘no maternal “instinct” exists’ and on what they saw as her denigration of motherhood.31 29 Alfred C. Kinsey et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders, 1953;

Mirra Komarovsky, Women in the Modern World: Their Education and Their Dilemmas, Boston: Little, Brown, 1953; Ashley Montagu, The Natural Superiority of Women, New York: Macmillan, 1953; Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, New York: Vintage, 1953.

30 Joanne Meyerowitz, ‘Beyond the feminine mystique: a reassessment of postwar mass culture, 1946– 1958’, Journal of American History (1993) 79, pp. 1455–1482. McGregor, op. cit. (26). The literature on women and the 1950s is enormous, and has shifted from emphasizing the complacent aspects of the decade to

highlighting the tensions and the complexity of women issues. See Joanne Meyerowitz (ed.), Not June Cleaver:

Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945–1960, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994. On mothers see Wini Breines, ‘Domineering mothers in the 1950s: image and reality’, Women’s Studies International Forum (1985) 8, pp. 601–608; Margolis, op. cit. (2), Chapter 3; Mintz and Kellog, op. cit. (24);

Laura Curran, ‘Social work’s revised maternalism: mothers, workers, and welfare in early Cold War America, 1946–1963’, Journal of Women’s History (2005) 17, pp. 112–136. On the rise of scienti c authority in the realm of child rearing see Rima D. Apple, Perfect Motherhood: Science and Childrearing in America, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006; Peter N. Stearns, Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America, New York: New York University Press, 2003.

31 De Beauvoir, op. cit. (29), p. 570. See Therese Benedek, ‘Review of The Second Sex’, Psychoanalytic Quarterly (1953) 22, pp. 264–267. See also Marjorie Grene’s review in the New Republic, 9 March 1953, 412 Marga Vicedo The concern about this issue re ected the widespread uneasiness created by the greatest increase in mothers of young children going to work outside the home in American history. By the mid-1950s a ‘silent revolution’ had occurred, noted sociologists Alva Myrdal and Viola Klein. Increasing numbers of married women of different social classes were entering the labour force. At rst, they sought paid work out of economic necessity and to support the war effort. But now, explained Myrdal and Klein, ‘the economic motive can no longer be separated from the ideological one; nor can the voluntary element be distinguished from the compulsory one’. Between 1940 and 1960 the number of married women with jobs doubled and working mothers increased by 400 per cent. Over four million married women took jobs, accounting for 60 per cent of all new workers. In 1940 married women holding jobs were mainly working-class; by the end of the 1950s many working wives were educated and middle-class.32 Because more mothers were joining the workforce, the need for childcare had again reached near crisis proportions even before the Korean War began in 1950, according to historian Sonya Michel. In 1953 the US Department of Labor published Employed Mothers and Child Care, a report on ‘a subject of vital national interest at a time when married women constitute the largest labor reserve in the country, and therefore may be expected to continue entering the labor force in ever-increasing numbers, and when 5 1/4 million mothers already are employed’. Of those, two million were reported to have children under six years of age.33 In this context, we can begin to appreciate the attractiveness of research about maternal care and love and speci cally of Bowlby’s views about the mother being the psychic organizer. In her work on child guidance, Kathleen Jones has shown that in the pre-war period there was already a shift emphasizing the psychology of the individual rather than the social networks and circumstances of ‘the troublesome child’. Now, congruent with the post-war American romance with psychology documented by historian Ellen Herman, and the more general turn to social scientists to solve social problems as examined by historians such as Mark Solovey, social and political decisions about day care and child rearing became increasingly framed as empirical questions about the needs of children.34 pp. 22–23; and ‘A senior panel takes aim at “The Second Sex”’, Saturday Review, 21 February 1953, pp. 26– 31, 41. The panel of reviewers were: 1. Psychiatrist. Karl Menninger. 2. Writer. Philip Wylie. 3. Educator.

Ashley Montagu. 4. Housewife. Phyllis McGinley. 5. Anthropologist. Margaret Mead. 6. Public Of cial. Olive R. Goldman.

32 Alva Myrdal and Viola Klein, Women’s Two Roles: Home and Work, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956, p. 79, p. 83.



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